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Consumer Reports survey: Social network users post risky information

Consumer Reports News: May 04, 2010 08:48 AM

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Fifty-two percent of adult users of social networks such as Facebook and MySpace have posted risky personal information online, according to the 2010 Consumer Reports State of the Net survey. And many haven't used their service's privacy controls to protect themselves. According to findings from the survey cited in the Consumer Reports investigation, Social Insecurity, 23 percent of the users of Facebook, the largest social network, either didn't know that site offered privacy controls or chose not to use them.

Other findings from the survey, which was conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center:

  • A projected 1.7 million online households had experienced online identity theft in the past year.
  • An estimated 5.4 million online consumers submitted personal information to e-mail (phishing) scammers during the past two years.
  • Among adult social network users, 38 percent had posted their full birth date, including year. Forty-five percent of those with children had posted their children’s photos. And 8% had posted their own street address.
  • An estimated 5.1 million online households had experienced some type of abuse on a social network in the past year, including malware infections, scams, and harassment.

Many adult Facebook users put themselves or their family at risk, the survey found:

  • Forty-two percent posted their full birth date including year on the site. Seven percent had posted their street address. Three percent had disclosed when they were away from home.
  • Twenty-six percent of adult Facebook users with children posted those children’s photos and names.
  • Of the estimated 18.4 million adult Facebook users who used apps (games and quizzes), 38 percent were either confident apps were secure or hadn’t thought about it. Meanwhile, a projected 1.8 million computers were infected by apps obtained through one or another social network in the past year.

Even as Facebook users expose themselves to cybercrime by posting personal information, Facebook continues to launch new services that require users to take often-confusing, multiple-step measures to re-implement the privacy they thought they already had.

Last week, several senators called on Facebook to change its new "instant personalization" offering because, like many Facebook privacy settings, it puts the burden of protecting their privacy on consumers by automatically sharing their personal information with others unless they object.

In this latest security report, Consumer Reports reveals more results from our survey, as well as sharing stories of users surprised when their information was hijacked and used in unexpected situations. We'll also have the latest information on other cybersecurity concerns, including the cost of spam, viruses, spyware, and phishing, plus plenty of advice on how to protect yourself.

Consumer Reports believes users aren't the only ones who need to take responsibility for their personal data. Social networks need to improve their privacy practices, as well as better educate their users.

—Donna Tapellini

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